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The actual selection factors for new Unicode emoji proposals?

The Unicode emoji proposal process is open to the public in theory, but as far as I can tell, is currently accepting a tiny number of proposals based mostly on “things people like”. I submitted an emoji proposal for Person Pointing at Self, which was rejected.

The subcommittee has a challenging role. Adding emojis to every device (particularly cheap ones) has a real cost, and they want to keep costs low for their vendor members. At the same time, they want to satisfy/appease the world’s screaming demand for more emojis. The subcommittee’s publicly stated selection factors for emoji are:

  1. compatibility
  2. usage level
  3. distinctiveness
  4. completeness

That said, the committee rejected an emoji to represent “I”/“me”: possibly the noun with the highest frequency word across all languages, and one with thousands of years of consistent visual representation. There must be other factors at play.

Reading recent approvals like the new emojis in Unicode 15.0, we can infer that the subcommittee applies additional, undocumented criteria, which may include:

  1. Is it a heart or a face? People like those.
  2. Is it a popular food or charismatic fauna/flora? People like those.
  3. Is it an important cultural totem? Please like those — and it’s hard to tell a large group they don’t deserve representation.

If these really are something like the criteria applied to new proposals, the subcommittee leads people to waste their time crafting proposals that have no chance of being accepted. And limiting new emoji to “things people like” is a crabbed vision of what emoji could do for humanity. Focusing on things people actually talk about seems like a better, less arbitrary metric that would enable more substantive communication.

The one bright spot in the emoji submission process were the wonderful people at Emojination, especially emoji maven Jennifer Lee. She was the producer for the movie The Emoji Story (which is worth a watch), and leads an active and supportive Slack channel for emoji proposals. If you have any interest in submitting a proposal, I’d start there.